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#AdventCalendar: Why some Swedes put cheese in their coffee

#AdventCalendar: Why some Swedes put cheese in their coffee
Here's how best to enjoy coffee cheese. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising Swedish fact as part of our own Advent calendar.

Would you like some cheese in your coffee?

That's not as uncommon a phrase as you might think, especially not in northern Sweden where dunking a chunk of kaffeost – which translates as coffee cheese in English, but is also known as kahvijuusto in meänkieli or leipäjuusto in Finnish, which translates to bread cheese – in your cup of coffee has long been part of the fika tradition.

In modern life, it is more of a tradition among the older and rural generation, or organizations that cater to tourists, and less so in cafés in more urban areas of northern Sweden.

Coffee in general, however, is an important part of Swedish hospitality.

Indeed, one British traveler to Sweden, Dr Thomas Thomson, wrote glowingly of Swedish coffee in 1812: “You can get coffee in the meanest peasant's house and it is always excellent.”

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As for the cheese aspect, it is believed to originate from the area along the Swedish-Finnish border, where it may have been a convenient source of essential daily nutrition for often semi-nomadic people living in a cold climate, having the added benefit of being easy to store and freeze without it going bad.

You shouldn't use just any kind of cheese, but coffee cheese can be bought in stores in northern Sweden or made at home. It is traditionally made from cow's milk, but reindeer or goat milk can also be used.

Here's how chef Hjördis Johansson recommends eating it:

“Fill about one-third of the coffee cup with fine-cut coffee cheese and a little powdered sugar. Pour hot coffee to cover the cheese. Drink the coffee and leave the cheese. Add a påtår (a second cup of coffee) and wait for the culinary finale. Drink the coffee and use a spoon to enjoy the coffee cheese,” she explains.

The cheese is supposed to squeek slightly when you chew it. It softens in the coffee, but does not melt.

In Finland, the mild cheese – a round, flat shape before it is cut up and served, was often dried to preserve it. It was then heated on the fire to soften whenever it was time to eat it. It can also be served on the side as a dessert, or sometimes fried like a Camembert and served with northern Scandinavian cloudberry jam.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article.


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